So I gave you guys chapter three, Coming Apart, of Forgiving Zander yesterday and today I’m giving you chapter four! That means this is the last chapter you get free before release day, which is tomorrow (Friday the 17th)!
And, of course, I have to advise that you read Breaking Cadence first as that is the first part of the trilogy.
As a side note, happy birthday to possibly my number one fan, Ian Manton (@imant64)!
We were sleeping in the kitchen, ready to go as soon as the spider outside moved or slept. But it was still there. Hairy spindles were grasped tightly around the lighthouse. It had us cornered, caged.
I looked across at the kids. They were bundled up in blankets on chairs, nestled in. I couldn’t sleep. My fingers tightened around the gun in my hands. Zander had given me it once, a very long time ago. We’d just started courting, as officially designated by the committee, anyway. He’d said that he wanted me to be able to protect myself.
“I found it… In your blood.”
Had that been before or after he knew? I tried to remember, but it was so hard when so many horrible things had come to pass in the interim. The exact moment when I’d discovered what he’d told me was a ‘flea bite’ was mixed up in everything else that we’d done together, everything else that he’d ruined. And that lie…
He’d told me that I’d have to stop lying one day, but how many times had he lied to me? He’d taken a sample of my blood and passed it off as a flea bite, for god’s sake! What kind of example was that supposed to set?
Yet, my heart ached.
“You could have been safe from this. I did this.”
I closed my eyes, tightly, sucking in a shallow breath. The face in my memory was impassive, all feelings tamped down and blockaded from view. And then the moment of terror when he’d taken off. The sound of his feet beating against the floor, abandoning me, had haunted my dreams for years. And now I could hear it again, thrumming at the same pace as my heart.
We’d been out in the Wastelands. His handsome face had been a thing of exquisite beauty to me, patterned in the darkness. All sharpness and smooth planes. He’d parked a little way off, behind a large industrial building that stood alone on the outskirts of town. The engine had died. Our lips met in the gloom, kisses dappling everywhere they could reach, until we’d forced ourselves, breathlessly, into the cool night air.
Feet had stumbled over the sand. Fingers had entwined. Even now I could feel him brush the hair from my shoulder to place a kiss there. I’d closed my eyes for barely a second, crushing that feeling into my memory, and, when I’d opened them, floodlights lit up the border.
Breath had stalled in my chest. Knives had pierced my heart as the huge, shadowed figure of Maurice stepped from behind those burning glares. The curve of my lips had faltered. Fingers had slipped from my grasp as angry words railed from Maurice and the committee members who had come to greet us. My parents had stood beneath one of the lights, watching, hands clasped quietly before them.
I’d half-turned to Zander. His mouth had opened wide, backing away into the gloom. Horror and then nothingness taking hold of his face as I screamed and kicked, lifted into Maurice’s filthy arms. And then Zander was gone, leaving only the sound of his running feet in my ears.
And I’d known he wouldn’t come back for me. Even if I’d hoped I was wrong.
Eyelashes flickered open. I thought I heard…
Footsteps played across the floor above. My gaze flashed over the two teens sleeping silently in the room, faces visible to see. I rose to my feet. The gun shook in my hand, heart jamming up my throat. I glanced at the sheaf of paper on the table. Zander’s map. Alex and Kitty swore it hadn’t been in their bedroom before.
Was he here? Was he really here?
Or was it his ghost? Was he haunting me?
Or was I going mad?
I took a deep breath and started up the stairs, fingers trembling as they skimmed the bannister for that sense of support. My other hand clasped my gun tight. The barrel tapped reassuringly against my thigh.
Did I even want it to be him after what I’d done?
And if it was, would I shoot him or let him go?
My hand hesitated on the door at the top of the steps. The wood creaked slightly. I held my breath and then felt my heart slam faster as the footfalls began again, dashing further up the building. He’d heard me. The door crushed open at my unsteady rush. The slightest shadow flickered against the stairwell opposite. Pulse hammering, I chased the fleeting image.
Stone blurred by. I had to hurry. I had to find out if it was him. I had to know.
The door to the roof shook out on its hinges, stuttered by the wind. Air rattled deep into my burning lungs, hair whipping around my head and blinding. I pushed the trailing colours away, desperate to see him, to know.
But he wasn’t there.
I raced to the edge of the rooftop. Sea air scraped my cheeks, stifling the tears of dashed hopes that threatened to run. The cold and the pain stung. The spider grappled the side of the building, perched halfway up and clinging to the old structure. Bodies littered the ground below. The finally dead Infected. I swallowed.
Somebody had dragged them into the shape of an ‘X’.
My knuckles turned white, fingers gripping the parapet as I struggled to breathe. I squeezed my eyes shut and then looked again, but there was no denying it. My hand crushed to my mouth. My whole body shook. No. No. No.
I turned and slowly crouched down against the wall, back scraping slowly against the stonework. Wind tugged my hair. He was here. He had to be. And if not him, who? It was a warning; I could feel it in my bones. The place we’d come to know as home was no longer safe, no longer a shelter. We were in more danger than we’d thought. My heart hammered against my ribcage as if trying to break free.
The sound of hinges protesting dragged my terrified gaze to the door.
Had he come to finish me off? Had he wanted me to know that the kids were going to be destroyed before he came to end me?
Blonde hair streamed in the upward draught. Kitty watched me quietly. A frown crossed her brow. She moved fast and silently, heading for the parapet as I struggled to my feet. I tried to stop her from looking but she’d already seen. Her face turned to mine, the wind howling around us in a protective tornado.
I opened my mouth, but the words wouldn’t come. Pain and heartache trembled in my eyes. She shook her head slowly and then took another look at the sign below.
“No,” she whispered. “It couldn’t be. It’s been months.”
“But the map…”
“That was you.”
I shook my head, covering my mouth again in an attempt to keep all of the feelings crammed inside. It was too much to hold in. My body was bursting with the emotion, ready to crack and explode in a wave of heartache and misery.
I nodded, feeling heat trickle over my hand, squeezed from my eyes in a pained display. She touched my forearm with cold fingers, glancing back down at the sigil of bodies at the base of the lighthouse. You could see the marks in the sand where they’d been carefully dragged and rearranged.
“But what does it mean?”
“Xanthia’s coming,” I whispered.
Kitty’s eyes snapped back to me. “Are you sure? How do you know?”
“I just know. Why else would he lead me up here to see it? And it’s an X. It means she’s coming. It means we’re her target still and she’s on her way. The Infected must have drifted from her search party and she’s following them here.”
“Zander led you up here?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” I paused, heaving in a breath and trying to centre myself. A hand passed over my forehead, smoothing out the worry lines. I had to be strong. “I think so. And he’s warning us to go.”
“You said she wanted the cure…” Her eyes glittered. “Does that mean she’s after you? You said she was looking for Alex.”
“She is,” I confirmed before the lying started again. Somebody had to know the truth. “Alex has the cure in his blood. That’s what she wants. Her plan was to kill both of us and keep him so she could sell his blood to the highest bidders.”
Kitty’s lips tightened. “Why didn’t you tell him the truth?”
My hands shook as I pushed them into my pockets. “Because he’s so hot headed he’ll get himself into trouble. He’d rush to the nearest person he could to help cure others and all they would do is take advantage of him. You’re not a stupid girl. You know that’s what they’d do.”
She looked down at the ground as if considering my words. Pride flickered in her expression at the description I’d used on her character. This was the right manipulation to keep her on my side. And I hated myself for it. Cold air whipped up her hair, swirling it around her shoulders and face.
“Fine,” she muttered. “Fine, I believe you, but I have more questions. And I want some answers.”
I nodded, wondering when this mouse had turned into a lioness.
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